CEO and founder Malcolm Bird has pulled the plug on the fledgling tween-targeted VOD/social media platform Viddiverse.
Although the ad-supported video and social networking destination for kids eight to 14 launched in May 2014 with a range of content and had recently inked a sponsorship deal with Mattel, the New York-based startup was unable to secure the crucial second round of investment it required to take Viddiverse fully to market.
“I used to joke that we were the best thing on the web for kids that no one knew about,” says Bird. “I think it’s indicative of where the kids business is right now. The traditional networks are failing. They’re losing audiences year-on-year, and in order to get online businesses running in a viable manner, they need to be supported by investments, but investors are too terrified to invest.”
In terms of the content licensing deals Viddiverse had made with the likes of Zodiak Kids, Nelvana and Shaftesbury, rights will revert to their owners. “We were pre-revenue, so there are no other deals,” Bird explains. “To shut it down was actually a pretty clean thing.”
Bird and his team had high hopes for the platform, which he says had been seeing strong user engagement from both kids and parents, with average user sessions ranging between 15 and 20 minutes in length. But after exhausting every possible investment option - from venture capital to private family money - it ultimately boiled down to the chicken-and-egg conundrum. Investors didn’t want to fund Viddiverse until it had a larger audience, but without much money available for marketing, it was much harder to build that audience.
“It’s very sad when you spend your life living on a website and then suddenly it’s not there. It’s a little bit like cutting your arm off,” says Bird. “But I’m very proud of what we achieved. We put together a brilliant product. I had a dedicated group of people and some incredible partners who stuck with me even though they saw how difficult it was to get it up and running.”
According to Bird, there’s an army of marketers and advertisers who are being under-served by linear networks and are desperately looking to get onto platforms like Viddiverse. However, such platforms need to be fully funded to succeed.
“Producers are also finding it more and more difficult just to fund their productions, so you’re in a situation where – I wouldn’t call it a death spiral – but I wouldn’t necessarily call it the healthiest place in the world,” he says.
As for Bird, the two-time Emmy Award winner says he’s taking a bit of time off to regroup, and may consider moving outside the industry he’s worked in for more than 30 years. He notes he is very interested looking at declining traditional businesses and how to offset losses with digital growth.
“I think long-term, it’s going to be frightening and interesting to see what’s going to happen to the kids business.” he says. “Getting into kids production is a masochist’s dream.”